Monday, January 4, 2016

Text of Mayor Alex Morse's Third Inaugural Address

First, I offer my heartfelt congratulations to all who share this stage with me this morning. To our new members of the City Council, I am looking forward to working with you. To our reelected Council members, I am grateful for the opportunity to continue our work together.

I also congratulate the members of our school committee on this stage today. The city of Holyoke is grateful for your service. This is an important time for our school district, and I have every confidence that, working with Dr. Zrike, you will all play a pivotal role in transforming our school district.

Sandy Smith will continue her work as our city treasurer, and the city is fortunate to have her experienced leadership in the office. Sandy, I am grateful for the chance to keep working with you to improve our city’s finances.

I also would like to thank City Clerk Brenna Murphy-McGee for her work over the past two years. Clerk McGee has led her office with vision and integrity, and the city of Holyoke has been better for it. Brenna, I am looking forward to working alongside you to make our city government as effective and responsive as possible.

I want to thank Rory Casey, Nilka Ortiz, and Billy Glidden, the staff in my office, for all they do for me and for the city of Holyoke. Thank you.

And I want to thank my family for being here today. I could not do this work without them. The values they taught me, and the loved they’ve always shown me, sustain me to this day. From the day I decided to seek this office, they have stood by me, and stood up for me, and been my strength and support. I love you guys. Thank you.

When I took this oath for the second time two years ago, I described a better Holyoke that was within our reach. I knew that the work we’d done in my first term had paved the way for real progress—progress that could be seen, measured, and felt throughout the city. Today, we see what that progress looks like.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of public and private investment in the city. The conversion of the former Holyoke Catholic building into new apartments. The redevelopment of the Holyoke Hotel, which will result in over 100 new jobs. The expansion of HCC’s culinary arts program into the Cubit downtown. The multi-million dollar investment in the Canal Gallery. The new train platform at the bottom of Dwight Street, marking the first time in nearly 50 years that rail service has stopped in downtown Holyoke. More housing in the pipeline than at any time in decades. Rising property values. A rising graduation rate and improved literacy scores. Historic drops in crime. New and restored parks. A new sense of civic pride and engagement.

So today, as people throughout the city look to us to continue our work, let us commit to building on this progress. We’re not done yet.

As we embark on this term, it’s important to remember how we got here. How did a city that had so long been associated with problems and challenges become a symbol of progress and resurrection?

We learned from our history. We knew that Holyoke had once thrived because its founders had the foresight to seize on the industries of the day, and made Holyoke the Paper City of the World. So, just as our forebears did, we looked at our unique assets and started laying the groundwork for a modern economy to flourish in Holyoke: an economy built on innovation and creativity, an economy strengthened by collaboration between passionate citizens.

We also invested in our people, because we believed in our people. We knew that it was the people of Holyoke themselves who would be responsible for our city’s resurgence, and so we worked to give them the tools they’d need to realize their dreams. We invested in quality of life. We helped develop relationships between our police department and our people. We gave kids new parks where they could play and gave parents more peace of mind. And we launched programs, like the SPARK program, to help homegrown businesses succeed. 

Throughout my time in office, I have articulated this vision of government: wherever the city government can assist Holyoke’s grassroots renewal, it should; wherever it hinders those efforts, it should get out of the way. That is a principle I remain committed to today. I believe that the people of Holyoke will make Holyoke again, and that the government should be their best partner in doing so.

Just as our commitment to this vision has brought us to the progress we see today, it will bring us to still brighter horizons in the coming two years. We must continue to reject the cynicism that fails to acknowledge any progress and the defeatism that says Holyoke’s economic prosperity depends on any one outside savior. We must continue to reject the notion that on our long road to progress we will leave some members of our Holyoke family behind. We must insist on bringing the whole family along intact, while we welcome others who want to take part in what’s happening here.

The people of Holyoke have now endorsed that vision on three occasions, and it is time for us to work together to keep moving the city in this direction. 

The verdict is clear: a local government that is inclusive, open, and collaborative is the key to our city’s success. And what this past election made clear is that the people of Holyoke want a local government that is strong and efficient at getting things done. The votes on each ballot initiative—approving the four-year mayoral term, rejecting the city manager form of government, shrinking the size of the Council—reflected the people’s desire for a nimble, dynamic government that can make bold changes and shape a better future for the city. The votes also signaled the people’s desire for a strong executive branch with the ability to work the City Council to implement a long-term vision.

In this new term, we should continue to apply these governing principles to the issues of the day. Because, make no mistake: there remains much work to do. The work we do this term will say a lot about what type of community we will hand down to future generations.

So let us rise to this occasion.

One issue that will require the immediate attention of the City Council is the city’s structural budget deficit. This issue doesn’t make for attention-grabbing headlines. It’s not something voters get excited about. And I know any conversation about the budget will be a sensitive one, because we all care about preserving the basic functions of government that people rely on. But we need to acknowledge that no other issue will have more of an impact on our long-term goals than this one.

I want us, the mayor and the Council, to accept this challenge as an opportunity to make history and eliminate the structural deficit for the first time in decades.

There are still bound to be difficult discussions about what cuts to make and how to raise additional revenue. But we know we were not elected to fear big challenges. We were elected to solve them. I know that, working together, we will come up with a budget reform package that will make our city’s finances more sustainable, and will grant us greater flexibility to make the quality of life investments that will move this city forward.

As we straighten out our city’s finances, let us also work together to make City Hall more effective and efficient by supporting a commonsense restructuring of city departments. I have said before, and I’ll say again this morning: the type of 21st century economy we are building in Holyoke needs a 21st century city government. This can be the year we finally make that a reality.

Perhaps most importantly, let us also continue to make smart public investments that will make Holyoke a stronger, more just, more prosperous community. Through strategic investments, we will create new jobs, offer our people greater economic security, and give more of our residents ladders into the middle class.

But we must also do much more. We must ensure that our policies respect the dignity of all people. We must find ways to lift up those of our citizens who have been marginalized. And we must find ways to help our brothers and sisters in the throes of addiction find pathways to healing and recovery.

This is the work before us: to continue building a more prosperous, more generous, more compassionate Holyoke.
We’re a city that works best when our efforts are rooted in hope, and cooperation, and the large-hearted generosity of so many of our residents. We work best when we turn toward each other in a spirit of love and compassion, instead of away from each other in fear. We work best when we recognize ourselves in one another, when we try to walk in each other’s shoes and build a community that respects the dignity of all who call Holyoke their home.

That, my fellow Holyokers, is who we really are. Those values—those unchanging values—are what have seen us through storms and tranquility, through every peak and valley. Our city’s progress has been built on those very values.

I know sometimes our politics can be divisive. I know that when times feel uncertain, and folks feel anxious about their own lives and futures, we can tend to turn away from each other, and to become skeptical of the notion that our government can really solve complex challenges in a fair way. And let’s face it: we live in a diverse city, with vastly different neighborhoods with vastly different needs. Sometimes, it isn’t obvious how the benefit to one part of Holyoke benefits another part of town. I get it.

But for all our differences and disagreements, I still believe we are all in this together. I believe we can make government more accessible to everyone. I believe we can make sure our new prosperity benefits us all. I believe we can help all of our people thrive, and allow of our children the opportunities to make of their lives what they will. And I believe that together we can rise to meet any challenge we face.

A local poet recently gave me a copy of a collection of poems about Holyoke. On the inside cover, she wrote me a note, in which she called Holyoke “a place where we can all be neighbors.”

A place where we can all be neighbors.

That has been my experience of Holyoke. Growing up here, people looked out for me. People cared for me. People told me that I mattered and that I could pursue my dreams. When I was wrong, people loved me anyway, and helped me get back on the right path. It was here that I learned what it meant to love a community, and to love my neighbor.

As we begin this new term, let us be neighbors to one another. When we disagree, let us do so respectfully. When we agree, let us act for the common good. Let us care for each other, and for the life we share together in this beautiful place. Let us continue the work we are in and remind people throughout the state, the region, and the nation just why we love the city of Holyoke, and why we are blessed to call it our home. 

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